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San Diego’s Thriving Algae Biotechnology Industry Continues to Fuel Region’s Economy

  |   Biorenewables, Cleantech Industry News, Cleantech San Diego, Highlights, Imperial Valley

A study conducted by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and released last week by its service bureau found that the direct, indirect, and induced economic impact of the algae biotechnology research and manufacturing industry generates a total of approximately 1,020 total jobs, $80 million in wages, and over $175 million of economic output to the San Diego region.

According to SANDAG, algae biotechnology continues to have a strong economic presence in the San Diego region and employment continues to show consistent growth. The study found that 395 employees are directly engaged in private sector algae biotechnology research and manufacturing and 110 are engaged as academic faculty and research assistants for a total of 505 workers. Direct employment in algae biotechnology-related manufacturing and research has nearly doubled since 2009.

“When it comes to clean technology innovation, the world looks to San Diego, and our thriving algae technology industry is no exception,” said Jason Anderson, president of CleanTECH San Diego, a nonprofit association with more than 100 local member organizations committed to advancing sustainable solutions for the benefit of the economy and the environment. “With top scientists conducting cutting-edge research at UC San Diego and business leaders like Sapphire Energy, Cellana, and Synthetic Genomics continuing to innovate, San Diego’s algae market will only continue to flourish.”

“Many of us have recognized the potential of algae as a biotechnology platform for years, and these employment and wage data show that this potential is finally being realized,” said Stephen Mayfield, a professor of biology at UC San Diego who directs the California Center for Algae Biotechnology and will discuss the report today at the 2014 BIO International Convention in San Diego. “These data are just the beginning, and I expect the industry to expand rapidly over the next several years as more and more bio-products come on line from algae biotechnology.”

To prepare for this growth in the algae industry, since 2010 a consortium of local groups have been training biofuel workers at UC San Diego and MiraCosta College with a $4-million grant from the state’s Department of Labor under the EDGE Initiative—Educating and Developing workers for the Green Economy. The grant involves the work of a number of local public and private partners, including CleanTECH San Diego, BIOCOM, BIOCOM Institute, San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation, California Center for Algae Biotechnology (Cal-CAB), UC San Diego, UC San Diego Extension, San Diego State University, San Diego Workforce Partnership, and MiraCosta College. At UC San Diego Extension, 166 students have enrolled in the EDGE Biofuels Certificate Program and 70 certificates have been earned to date.

In its summary letter, SANDAG also noted algae biotechnology’s potential to produce economic and environmental benefits beyond those measured in the report. “For example, algae can provide a sustainable fuel source, which could result in advantages such as a cleaner environment and lower fuel costs.”

Mayfield agrees. “Algae biotechnology is really the Green Revolution 2.0 – in which we use sunlight and captured CO2 to make every bio-product imaginable, from fuel to human therapeutics, and in a sustainable and cost effective manner,” he said. “What is not shown in SANDAG’s data are the enormous environmental and societal benefits that also come with this new sustainable bio-manufacturing revolution.”

recent report issued by the U.S. Department of Energy ranked algal biofuels research programs at UC San Diego and its Scripps Institution of Oceanography as the two best in the country.

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